Feb 12, 2009 at 01:20pm IST

Ponting's team bats for wildfire victims

Melbourne: The deadly wild fires in Australia have killed at least 181 people in Victoria state alone. Australia's cricketers changed their preparation schedule ahead of the series-deciding limited-overs international against New Zealand in Brisbane so that they could spend several hours Wednesday at the Victorian town of Whittlesea helping local people come to terms with the devastation.

Fast bowler Peter Siddle, who has lived in the Gippsland area heavily impacted by the fires and whose brother had two friends among those killed, spent his time during Tuesday's win over New Zealand walking around the Adelaide Oval with a bucket collecting donations from fans.

The match helped raise an estimated 6 million Australian dollars ($3.9 million) to aid relief and recovery efforts, including contributions from major sponsors, gate receipts and player donations.

WHAT A SHOT: The Australian team even played cricket with affected children in Whittlesea where the bushfire damages were huge.

Skipper Ricky Ponting said his team wanted to do whatever it could to help the fire victims.

"We've decided as a group that we're going to ... go out to Whittlesea and spend a few hours there to try and make things a fraction easier if we can," Ponting said. "We want to get in and help out where we can. We want to lend our support and pay our respects."

Meanwhile, Australia's footballers are taking the fundraising drive abroad hoping to collect donations from Japanese fans during Wednesday's World Cup qualifier for a Red Cross appeal.

The Socceroos are donating their match fees from the Asian Group 1 qualifying match at the 70,000-seat Yokohama stadium and Football Federation Australia has already made a five-figure donation as well as promises of replacement equipment for junior clubs and schools damaged or lost in the devastating blaze.

"We have all been shocked by the news of the devastation and we wanted to add to the support of FFA," Australia captain and West Ham defender Lucas Neill said in a statement from Japan. "We have also been touched by the way in which Australians are pulling together at a time like this.

"It's what helps define us as people, even if we're far away from home. It makes us all so very proud to be Australian."

The Australian players will wear black armbands during the match and both teams will observe a minute's silence before kickoff as a memorial to those killed in the fires. Neill said local volunteers will collect money at the stadium for the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal.

"We've got a game to play, which is small in the scheme of things and compared with what others are going through," Neill said.

Australia leads Group 1 in qualifying with a perfect nine points from three wins — two points clear of Japan — approaching the halfway mark in the last full round of Asian qualifying for South Africa 2010.

The Australian Football League will hold a preseason Australian rules football match in Melbourne on Friday, with more than A$1 million ($656,000) expected to be raised from ticket sales, broadcast rights and fundraising efforts.

Other sporting bodies including the Australian Olympic Committee and the Australian Rugby Union have already announced donations to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

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